Tag Archive | Black Lives Matter

Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

Martha, . . Martha, . . Martha . . .

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Diego Velázquez)

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Diego Velázquez)

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Today’s gospel is probably one of the shortest stories in the Bible. . . but even though it is short, it still has a LOT to say.

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for what he knew would be a difficult week. We know now that he would be tried, crucified and later be resurrected. As he travelled, he stopped to visit with his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

Martha’s opened her home to offer hospitality to this traveling rabbi and his entourage. She did it as a public sign of her religious commitment. In welcoming Jesus and his followers, she was following the time-honored Middle-Eastern ritual of hospitality.

While she was busy in the kitchen, Mary, her sister, chose to remain with Jesus in the living room, listening to his words of wisdom. Martha wanted everything in the kitchen to turn out just right. She wondered whether her sister appreciated the pressure she was under in the kitchen. In fact, she thought that if her sister had the sense to come and help, much of the burden could be eased. But, her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, hanging on his every word. Not helping with a thing!

So, let’s talk about Martha; I think Martha gets a little bit of a bum rap.

But I am prejudiced; you see,


I see myself in Martha, intent on getting everything right and pleasing those around me. I grew up being taught that I should be a ‘good girl’ and only do things that would please anyone in authority. It made me a very good Martha.

And even today, I look at my calendar and see thirty-eight monthly meetings. . . how could it be that many?? I serve on committees and commissions that concentrate on social justice and advocacy. I tell myself that I need to do this because a lot of other people don’t or won’t . . . it is my diaconal ministry. I work for justice for immigrants, for LGBTQ+ people, for prisoners, for those in need of food and shelter, and a myriad of other people and causes. Surely, this hyperliving world needs all of that ‘Martha’ activity. How can I have time to sit still and really listen well enough to be able to make real changes?

And . . . when can I take time to listen?

Martha was preparing for Jesus to come to her house; she, too, didn’t have time to listen.

The way the story goes is that Martha is bad, and Mary is good. We are told again and again,

“Be like Mary, don’t be like Martha. The world is too full of Marthas; there are not enough Marys!”

As I was researching for this sermon, I ran across a new word: ‘hyperliving’. It was new to me and I found out that, not only are most of us hyperliving, but the University of Houston actually offers a master’s degree in Studies of the Future, centering around the phenomena of ‘hyperliving’.

So what is ‘hyperliving’?

  • We want to do more and more things in less and less time.
  • Some of us carry around planners with lots of scraps of paper attached and rubber bands holding it all together.
  • We buy time-saving gadgets and don’t have the time to read the instructions to figure out how to use them.
  • We do the ‘multi-tasking’ thing, especially in the car. We drive, eat, drink coffee, listen to the radio, talk on the cell phone, and make gestures – all at the same time!
  • Before we come to a stop light, if there are two lanes and each contains one car, we find ourselves trying to guess which one will pull away first so we can get in that lane.
  • At a grocery store, if we have a choice between two checkout lines, we find ourselves counting how many people are in each line, multiplying this number by the number of items per cart. After we get in line, we keep track of the other person who would have been us in the other line. If we finish checking out and the person who would have been us is still waiting you feel like we’ve won! But if the person who would have been us is walking out of the store and we’re still in line, we feel depressed.
  • When we are driving, especially long distances, we push the posted speed limit by six miles an hour. We just HAVE to get there sooner.[1]

(Do I see heads nodding out there in agreement?)

Well, my friends, that is ‘hyperliving’.

And hyperliving is a very good word to describe living in a ‘Martha’ world. A world in which one is so busy planning, organizing, perfecting, controlling and maximizing our time that we never have time to ‘stop and smell the roses’, or take a deep breath, or listen to the words of Jesus.

Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which.shall.not.be.taken.away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

“There.is.need.of.only.one.thing.” (Luke 10:41)

Mary had chosen that ‘one thing’.

Martha had been scurrying to see that everything was ‘perfect’, yet all she was doing was transient; very soon all the food would be eaten, the guests would have left, the dishes done, and the house restored to order. It would be as if no one had ever been there.


Jesus’ visit would only be a faint memory. . . and Martha had missed it!

But for her sister Mary, His words and being near Jesus would have a lasting impact. In fact, it is thought that this Mary is the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with precious oil within a few days of His death (Mathew 26:12). Whatever she heard at His feet caused her to follow Jesus, to be one of the women at his crucifixion. Something touched her faith down to the core of her being.

So, should we become more like Mary and less like Martha?

Is there no place for the busy service of Martha?

What we need to do is find ourselves in an environment that nurtures and encourages us. We do not live “by bread alone.” Here was Jesus, ‘the bread of life’, present and available, but Martha had her mind on other bread. So Martha missed out hearing the stimulating words of Jesus.

Whenever we sit with the Lord, He brings us insight and understanding, not only about his own suffering and struggle, but about our own as well. When you and I feel nervous and agitated, worked up and wound up because of what’s going on in our lives, we need an understanding partner with whom to sit, so that we can sort things out, gain an understanding of our situation, and receive encouraging words from the person listening.

God’s plan for each of us is made up of a lifetime of small opportunities. No matter what our career or calling may be, we should each seek ways to serve the Lord daily. We do this by ministering wherever we are – to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

God has intended this world to be Mary first, then Martha. God built this world to be a Mary world with Martha moments.

So, how can we live like Mary in a Martha world?

Perhaps we need both Marys and Marthas; we need is Marys who can learn from Marthas and Marthas who can learn from the Marys of the world. We need a delicate balance between work and prayer, between service and the spiritual, between busyness and attentiveness. We need the Marthas to keep the world running and the Marys to remind us to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen.

But how can we take time to be Mary in our hyperliving world?

All the recent shooting and protests are, in part, caused by reactions of people who have for far too long not been listened to.

Why are we surprised that they feel their only recourse is to protest so that they cannot be ignored?

Why are we surprised because they feel hopeless about their futures when they have substandard education, no jobs and seem the target of any person who doesn’t like ‘the other’?

Now is the time to sit and listen, just as Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him.

Listen to the pain of our neighbors; their demands for justice.

Listen so that we can move beyond our own fears and prejudices.

Listen for the words that will convince us to act with more mercy than judgement.

Mary knew who to listen to.

Surely, we can do the same.

Since the Civil Rights Movement ended, there have been many opportunities for people of faith to be merciful and demand justice for all our neighbors. Shamefully, we have mostly remained silent. We cannot be silent anymore and remain faithful to a God who commands us to

love our neighbors as ourselves. (Luke 10:27)

So sit quietly and listen.

Do you hear God’s call to speak truth to the powerful and privileged in the silence?

Do you hear God calling you away from the distractions of everyday tasks and blatant excuses for not doing anything into acts of mercy, love, and justice?

It’s all well and good to welcome all to God’s table, but if we aren’t living out the meaning of that bread and cup with those who hunger and thirst for justice, we are ignoring completely the core of Jesus’ message.

So we need to listen, reflect, and listen for that still small voice and then get very HYPER about making things happen! We need to first calm down, center, discern, pray and then get up and GO TO WORK! For, if we lose one part of ourselves, the other has no meaning.

In closing, let me read you a poem by a pastor friend of mine:

My dear, my dear, you are distracted by any things.
One thing is needed.
Every moment, you are sitting at your teacher’s feet.
Everything that happens is an entrance.
Each moment can be a falling, a falling in love.
The mouth that speaks this into being is right here.
Listen for the voice of the Beloved in every breath.
Every breath.
Everything else can rot or be stolen; this can’t be taken from you.
Nothing else matters.
Listen. [2]

We all need to listen if we are to come through this current environment of hostility, vitriolic speech, mass murders to build a world where everyone is equal, everyone is wanted, and everyone is our brother and sister.


It is up to each one of us, not someone else.

We must listen and then ACT.



[1]      Futurist David Zach, master’s in Studies of the Future from the University of Houston
[2]       Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH; 17 July 2016